For seventeen girls and patients at Dana-Farber Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Dana-Farber’s annual Girls Weekend – a three-day arts, shopping, and food extravaganza – is a much-needed opportunity to relax and connect with new friends who also know what it’s like to have cancer.
“Being a teenager – especially when you’re a girl – is so tough,” says Lisa Scherber, director of patient and family programs at Dana-Farber, who oversees the annual event with Jennifer Noonan, the Jimmy Fund Clinic adolescent program manager. “You’re at an age when you are trying to look like everyone else and feel like you belong. Then you add a diagnosis and treatment on top of that, and you start thinking about how you can manage all of it together.”
The Girls Weekend, funded in part by the Howard G. Gordon Family Teen Activities Fund established by Institute Trustee Michael Gordon and his wife, Christina, helps young women over the age of 13 make sense of these unique challenges.
The most recent weekend began early on a Saturday morning as the girls browsed racks of clothes during a shopping spree at H&M on Newbury Street.
“It’s so much fun to see these girls, who just met that morning, start forming friendships and encouraging one another to try on different outfits,” says Scherber. “It’s the beginning of seeing them transform not only physically, but also emotionally.”
The girls then checked in to the W Boston Hotel before having dinner at Maggiano’s Restaurant and then seeing Shear Madness at the Charles Playhouse – an interactive comedy mystery that asks for help from the audience.
“The show brought the girls a lot of laughs,” says Scherber. “It was great to see them giggle and feel comfortable jumping into the performance and interacting with one another.”
The day ended with a sweet treat when the girls returned to the hotel to enjoy an ice cream sundae bar and reflect on their favorite parts of the day – ultimately bonding with each other in a way they are not usually able to with friends at home.
“Even if teens have the most supportive friends outside of clinic, their friends can’t really understand what it’s like to have such a significant medical experience,” says Noonan. “I hear from teens all the time that their friends try to support them, but that being with teens who truly ‘get it’ makes them feel understood in a completely different way. They can share things and not feel like they are the only ones who have had an experience like this.”
On Sunday morning, the girls met their personal “glam squad” at Pini Swissa Salon and were pampered by makeup artists, nail technicians, and hair stylists behind the salon’s closed doors for their private party.
“I love seeing that moment when they catch themselves in the mirror and realize what we have known all along – that they are beautiful,” Scherber says.
After getting makeovers, the girls returned to the hotel to have lunch, make jewelry, and decorate gingerbread houses, which were generously donated by Dancing Deer Baking Company.
Later in the afternoon, the girls had professional portraits taken by Doug Quagliaroli, whose son was treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for leukemia in 2007.
“The portraits are our way of making the girls feel beautiful and strong when they’ve forgotten that they are,” explains Scherber.
“From the moment their parents drop the girls off, I have no doubt whatsoever that we will bring them back feeling stronger, and with the realization that they really aren’t so different,” adds Scherber. “It truly is a magical weekend.”